Friday, 11 September 2009

All hart

On Topsham Carnival Day recently, one of the pubs had a promotion by "Jägerettes", young women who go around in orange vests promoting Jägermeister, a love-it-or-hate-it German herbal spirit. I'd seen the drink before, but never at close enough quarters to ponder the bottle logo, which is rather familiar as the "hart of the wud" that forms an important motif in Russell Hoban's post-apocalyptic Riddley Walker. In that novel, the only remaining historical document is a pamphlet from Canterbury Cathedral describing its mural of Eustace and the stag.

At the bottom of the painting St. Eustace is seen on his knees before his quarry, a stag, between whose antlers appears, on a cross of radiant light, the figure of the crucified Saviour.
- Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban

This is the ancient story, depicted many times (for instance, by Pisanello) of the conversion of St Eustace, according to legend a Roman general called Placidus who was fond of hunting until he saw this vision of Christ. There's a nice account at the webblog Logismoi - 'The Radiant Cross Which the General Saw' — St Eustace the Great-Martyr. In Riddley Walker, with the fogged and mystical thinking that's a legacy of a nuclear catastrophe, they deconstruct the story as providing insights into dimly-remembered nuclear physics and the legendary "Eusa" who informs their world-view.

Who ever this bloak wer what wrote our Eusa Story he connectit his self to this here Legend or dyergam and the chemistery and fizzics of it becaws this here Legend writing and the Eusa Story the 2 of them ben past down together in the Mincery. "St Eustace is seen on his knees before his quarry." Which a quarry is a kind of digging. Whys he on his knees? What brung him down what knockt him off his feet? What come out of that digging? A stag. Wel thats our Hart of the Wud innit we know him well a nuff. Whats he got be twean his antlers its "a cross of radiant light". Which is the same as radiating light or radiation which may be youve heard of.

The Jägermeister logo comes from a different branch of the story, which accreted to Saint Hubert (aka Hubertus aka Hubertus von Lüttich) a Belgian bishop and "the patron saint of hunters, mathematicians, opticians and metalworkers". Mast-Jägermeister AG (Findel-Mast is the owning family, Jägermeister = gamekeeper or forest supervisor) latched on to the iconography, presumably to play the tradition card, for the branding of the drink in 1935. It was originally sold as a medicinal tonic. The German Wikipedia entry is rather less coy than the English in mentioning the issue of Nazi connections in its origins. I won't go there in great detail (anyone launching a product in Germany in 1935 would necessarily have dealings with the Nazi party) but Der Geist aus des Flasche (The Ghost out of the Bottle, Claudia Keller, Tagesspiel, 24/8/2003) explores the associations of the historical post of Jägermeister that led the drink to be nicknamed "Göring-Schnaps".

The Jägermeister bottle label also features a poem:

Das ist des Jägers Ehrenschild,
Daß er beschützt und hegt sein Wild,
Weidmännisch jagt, wie sich’s gehört,
Den Schöpfer im Geschöpfe ehrt.

It is the hunter’s honour that he
Protects and preserves his game,
Hunts sportsmanlike, honours the
Creator in His creatures.

This is almost universally misattributed to "Otto von Riesenthal" 1, but this is a misnomer for the German forester, ornithologist, hunter and author Oskar von Riesenthal (1830-1898). More detail:

The saying "This is the hunter's honor shield ..." is known to many hunters. Less known, however, is the author of this poem, namely the Royal Forester Oskar von Riesenthal, who first saw the light of this world on 18 September 1830 in Breslau. His family were from Austria. His great-grandfather was a major in the imperial service. But this career doesn't seem to have suited him, because he left and settled in Silesia, where the family bought a farm.

There Oskar was born, the son of a road construction inspector. Subsequently, he attended high school in the town of Oels. After passing his final exams at 18, he began studies at the Royal Forestry, Poppelau, to devote himself to the Forestry Service. Armed with a final diploma, he enrolled in Easter 1850 as a one-year volunteer in the former 6th Military Police Batallion in Breslau, and a year later was discharged as militia officer. From Easter 1851, he attended the Neustadt-Eberswalde Higher Forestry Academy, followed by further time at Schleusinger-Neundorf Higher Forestry to learn the beech and spruce economy of the Thuringian forest.

In 1863, now married, he passed his surveying exam and took the post of district ranger (1868-71) in the Bechstein forest of Tuchola Forest.

In November 1871 he moved to Altenkirchen in the Westerwald. Here he completed in 1876 his extensive work Die Raubvögel Deutschlands (The birds of prey in Germany). Four years later, in 1880, appeared on the art of hunting such a significant book, Das Waidwerk (The Chase). After two more years, in 1882 in Leipzig, his Jagdlexikon (Hunting Lexicon) was released. And finally, he revised the 5th edition of Die kleine Jagd (The Little Hunt, Brockhaus, Leipzig), originally written by Jester, which was published in 1884.

But his tireless work as a writer was far more extensive. In an essay he wrote: "On what do I base my main legitimacy, but my unswerving devotion to the sublime Mother Nature, who sparked my gratitude for more and more removing the bandage from my eyes and letting me learn from her big book". From all his writings and lectures widely held always sounded the warning "Protect and cherish game! Shelter and protection for our birds and forever!"

Ultimately he found at the behest of the then Oberland forester a job as a royal forester at the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and domains, and moved to Berlin-Charlottenburg, where he remained until his death in 1898.

- translation from Oskar von Riesenthal, International St Hubertus Order website 2

The protection, cherishing and sheltering of wildlife doesn't extend to the point of not killing them, merely to doing it humanely. The full poem goes:


Das ist des Jägers Ehrenschild,
Daß er beschützt und hegt sein Wild,
Waidmännisch jagt, wie sich’s gehört,
Den Schöpfer im Geschöpfe ehrt!

Das Kriegsgeschoß der Haß regiert, -
Die Lieb’ zum Wild den Stutzen führt:
Drum denk’ bei Deinem täglich Brot
Ob auch Dein Wild nicht leidet Noth?

Behüt’s vor Mensch und Thier zumal!
Verkürze ihm die Todesqual!
Sei außen rauh, doch innen mild, -
Dann bleibet blank Dein Ehrenschild!

I'll translate it when I have a moment, but it boils down to being honourable by killing things cleanly. If my German is correct, "Das Kriegsgeschoß der Haß regiert, Die Lieb’ zum Wild den Stutzen führt" loosely means "shooting things with ruddy great artillery is governed by hate, but it's loving to shoot game with a small-bore rifle". Von Riesenthal wrote various other books, such as the 1903 Die Stiefel des Herrn Oberforstmeisters, der verrückte Keiler und andere lustige Geschichten und Gedichte (The Master Forester's Boots, the Crazy Wild Boar, and other funny stories and poems.

Returning to the main thread, I find it very interesting how ancient symbols continue to be reinvented for the modern era (see Cross purposes) and the antlers-and-cross image appears to be very durable. Believers and Doubters, Inspired by the Word (Martha Schwendener, New York Times, February 6, 2007) mentions another appearance in J. P. Munro's "Vision of St. Eustace, Master Hunter"

which explores how traditional German Christian sources were appropriated for use on Jägermeister liquor labels, is reproduced in the brochure but is oddly absent from the show [Whitney Biennial 2006]

You can see it here at Flickr.

- Ray

1. Correcting this misattribution is likely to be an uphill struggle, as misinformation abounds in this territory. Even Google Books is unreliable here: if you try a search on "Otto von Riesenthal" you'll find a deal of biographical garbage scraped from a now-deleted hoax article on Wikipedia.

After Riesenthal went on an absinthe binge Bismarck disowned him and forced him to live a shack [sic] composed mostly of deer hides, mud, grass, bones, and discarded mathematics textbooks
- Deer: Webster's Quotations, Facts and Phrases, Icon Group International, Inc.

See Writer Beware Blogs! for background.
2. I'm not clear what this is: apparently a revived historical aristocratic/religious/hunting order.

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